I Love NZ

Since my last post, I have made it from Kaikoura on the east coast, around to Abel Tasman National Park in the northwest. I guess I keep saying things like this, but I’ve really enjoyed the changes in the scenery, and just how very laidback it is here on the South Island.

After heading out of Kaikoura we stopped off at viewpoint overlooking a seal colony and watched lazy seals, playful young seals (in a pool we called the Kindergarten) and this fellow, gazing out to sea:

We stayed around the back of a somewhat grotty hostel that night, in Blenheim. We were in wine country now and felt it would be nice to do a wine tasting. But first! The exciting opportunity to try out the healthcare (for foreigners) when my strange ankle (if you know of that saga) acted up, swelling and turning red. We visited the hospital and I was told by the triage nurse there (a friendly Canadian) that it would be best to go to a doctor and be seen for $60 rather than $300. I agreed. At the GP, I was treated very nicely as well, and then at the chemist as well. Everyone was so… nice!  So even though I spent money on rather boring stuff it was less painful than it might have been. I’ll stop now, as it is boring.

So then we visited sustainable Grove Mill, where we tasted and learned. Bought a ‘late harvest 2006 Gewurztraminer’ (which I guess is posh, it certainly tasted delicious – we drank it a couple days later sitting in camp chairs and nibbling on crackers with brie and blue cheese, mmm). The woman at the winery told us about the Irish bar in Picton (where we were headed) that has live music on a Monday night. It was Monday afternoon. An evening plan was forming.

Picton is a lovely place. Small but with a bit of bustle at this time of year, as it is is the ferry port that connects with Wellington on the North Island. After some dinner in our campsite we walked into town, I took a few minutes to play on the local playground equipment (I can recommend the slide), then we found the Irish bar, where I can report they do a good pint of Guinness, even if it is a bit pricey. And Monday night music as promised.

Next day we did part of the Snout Walkway, our uphill climb in the rapidly increasing heat earning us a great view of Queen Charlotte Sound. We met a French guy, and he and J talked football as guys always seem to do when I go walking with them. Age old ritual or something. After lunch we bought petrol and groceries and then got on the road toward Nelson. It was a beautiful route (aren’t they always) and with Eric Clapton playing (via speakers, not live) we wound our way along, stopping to make dinner alongside a river and then later stopping at a layby next to a beach, initally for the view but then decided to stay there the night as there was a portaloo and standpipe. The beach for some reason had not only the usual things like shells but also jawbones. J and I each found one, while walking separate stretches of beach. The next morning while we munched muesli and seagull had a go on one of the jaws.

We couldn’t swim at this beach, too stoney, so the next morning we found a sandier one and had a bath. Here I am admiring the view:

Our destination for the day was Abel Tasman National Park – where we have now spent the past couple days, staying at a campsite called Old MacDonald’s Farm. It was very noisy here with that roar (is that the word) of the insects or whatever it is. I can’t explain the sound – it doens’t disturb sleep or anything but it does make you sometimes need to speak up rather A LOT to be heard.

We hired mountain bikes for the afternoon and explored with them for awhile. Visited a sculpture garden run by a local artists collective, such a creative and peaceful place.

The next day we were up early for our sea kayaking trip. We had freedom rentals but still needed to be briefed on equipment, safety and so forth but were on the water by 10ish. What can I say: it was a gorgeous day in a beautiful place.


Will add more photos when I can.

In the meantime, have I mentioned sandflies? Bastards.

Tiaki and dusky dolphins

Heading north out of Christchurch, we parked up for the night near a beach and campground. Used the campground’s toilets on the sly, and the next morning asked about paying for a shower. They were more than happy for us to use the coin-operated showers and they were a bargain – only 50 cents. Good stuff! Ate breakfast in our van while a sparrow visited the back, bobbing into our pots and pans to see if there were any tasty morsels going spare.

We drove on towards Kaikoura, stopping off at a beach to take in the scenery and to allow me to  perform an impromptu dance. Talent, no?

Kaikoura is pretty and laidback, kinda quiet at the moment considering the time of year, but on the other hand, the weather is crap. (Very English – rain, grey skies – nooooo!) We decided to go for a full-on powered site round the back of the Lobster Inn. Really nice: open-air kitchen, power to charge our devices (cameras, etc.), friendly people about.

Yesterday’s highlight was whale watching. We weren’t sure how the weather would pan out, but even though the seas were choppy the trip went ahead. I was thankful for the sea sickness tablet I took beforehand as it was a bit rollercoastery at times. We saw loads of dusky dolphins, who came to swim alongside the boat and tease us (and 0ur cameras) with their speed and playfulness. We also saw some petrels and albatross – so impressive!

But the main target our attentions was the sperm whale population in the underwater canyon above which we were riding. One of the whales was feeding below and it was only a matter of time before he would surface…and finally he did and the excitement was on as we all tried to capture the moments on camera. Then all too soon he he flipped up his tail and was gone. Our time was running down and the crew turned to return to land…but then all of a sudden they made the quick decision to head back out. Word was he was going to resurface. And so he did…and I even caught his tail this time. And a beautiful one it is! His name, by the way, is Tiaki, which means ‘guardian’.

Once we had returned to shore, we went for some beers and food in Kaikoura. I tried the ‘seafood selection’ – lots of fried seafood, served with chips. I wish some of it had been labelled as I was curious exactly what I was eating… We had thought about going to see a band, as it was Saturday night after all, but it was a choice between a very quiet folksy thing and some sort of Australian reggae (I guess Kaikoura wasn’t rockin’ that night) so we opted for a walk instead, along the beach and along the road south.

Oh, how I love being by the sea…and walking along the beach, lost in thought, or free of thought. I think perhaps there is no heartache the ocean could not absorb.

On the road in a Transformers van

After a night in jail, we made our way into central Christchurch yesterday to pick up the camper van, which is painted with a Transformers theme.

First stops were petrol and groceries. Then down the coast a bit to Banks Peninsula, where we found a campsite next to a beach at Okains  Bay. The roads there wind you this way and that, taking you over and through some beautiful scenery. It was very nice indeed to be out of the city.

Even though the campsite was full of people, especially families as it’s the school summer holidays here, there was still a calmness and tranquility to the beach. Very nice. This morning Jode opted for a dip in the cold sea, but I went for the $2, 4-minute shower option, and waited until a bit later when it had warmed up to dip my toes in the sea.

We drove a winding path back towards Christchurch, stopping off at a pretty little bay to make some lunch. I immediately spotted a rope swing on the beach, suspended from a tree, and made a beeline towards it so I could give it a go. Fun fun fun! I returned to it after a tuna sandwich for more (who could resist?) and also took a masterclass in skipping stones. I am very bad at this endeavour but today finally managed three skips, and without emptying the beach of all its stones in the process. Which has to be a good thing.

We eventually made our way back to the city and parked up next to the big park here for some coffee, then moved to a more picturesque place in the park to make dinner. We do a mean stir fry. I got the urge to play tennis, as we were near some courts there, so we may do that one day if we find a place. Meanwhile, hoping to pick up a cheap football somewhere for kicking around (naturally). One must caper, after all. Like the lambs of NZ perhaps? Hm, yeah…

Anyway, am now sitting in a an internet shop trying to type. We came into town thinking we’d catch some performances from the World Buskers Festival but nothing much is happening until tomorrow. So probably heading out of the city in a bit to find somewhere to park up for the night. “Freedom camping” is fine here, just as long as you don’t choose someplace where camping is actually prohibited. I had my $2 shower so I’m all good and clean for a bit anyway. Will be heading north up the coast towards Kaikoura, where there are things like whale watching and swimming with dolphins to try. A very popular spot.

Apologies to anyone reading for the lack of flair in these entries. For one thing, the computers I’ve been using lately are rubbish and cramp my style! That’s one excuse anyway.

Down to Welly

Train journey was good, got a great view of the north island scenery. I enjoyed spending some time on the open-air viewing platform during the trip, feeling the wind in my hair. Sometimes we were sunk down amongst hills and woodland, at other times we soared above via viaducts and bridges. The crew changed over the course of the journey – I guess my favourite had to be the Wellington crew as the guy who was giving occasional commentary had quite a dry sense of humour which amused me. E.g. at Hamilton, where we could get off for a few minutes for “some fresh air or a toxic cigarette…” (Well, maybe you had to be there. Anyway.)

So Wellington. Met up with Jode, stayed in a hotel for a couple nights which was such a luxury after hauling my stuff from hostel to hostel for the past week or so. Tried out a few cafes and a pub (Wellington apparently has more cafes and bars per capita than New York), visited Te Papa, the national museum, enjoyed nice weather (I brought the warm, dry weather with me I guess, as it had been rainy and windy here before I arrived), and today am taking the cable car up to have a stroll through the botanical gardens before it’s time for the bus to the airport.

So on to Christchurch, where we pick up the camper van tomorrow…

Lists, etc.

Some seafood I have tried of late:

*Mussel fritter at farmers’ market in Paihia

*Shellfish kindly shared with me by Taiwanese couple in hostel (reminded me of mussels but different shell)

*Snapper and chips, eaten on the beach in Devonport (short ferry ride away from Auckland city)

Things I am liking very much:

*Tree ferns and agapanthus, which I am seeing everywhere

*Walking in the sea, a tonic for mind and body (including the Famous Kramer Blisters)

*Being barefoot

*The clean air in NZ

*The colour of the sea

*Collecting seashells

*Devonport on Saturday, calm and perfect for exploration

*Being on the other side of the world from where I have always been before

What I’m up to…

Returned to Auckland today on the bus and after checking into my hostel decided to take the short ferry ride to Devonport and explore. There are two volcanic cones there so enjoyed a bit of a climb in the (hot) sunshine, paid off my nice views over the harbour and into the city. Walked along Cheltenham beach and picked up seashells and bits of volcanic rock. Had some fish and chips (snapper and chips, as noted above) on the beach and in the evening returned by ferry, chatting to some Americans from Kansas to pass the 12 minute or so crossing time. Ran errands in the city and returned to hostel. Typing this but should be climbing into bed – early start tomorrow to take the Overlander train down to Wellington. Read about the journey ahead of me here!

And for pics, try my Flickr photostream

In my element

I am up in the Bay of Islands now, staying in a place called Paihia. It is so relaxed here, and really, really pretty – pics to come when I’m on a better computer. Such a pleasant change from Auckland, of which I am not a huge fan, although I did enjoy the Auckland Museum, where I looked at Maori carvings and learned a bit of history, of the natural and human varieties. The Domain, where the museum is set, is a really nice park and the Wintergarden has some lovely plant houses you can visit.

But Paihia! I am staying in a nice hostel where I received a free upgrade to a deluxe dorm. I have the feeling the dorm will be full tonight and that it’s mixed – just heard a guy saying to reception that he’s moved into the room number where I’m staying. I hope he doesn’t snore, I had enough noise last night from the karaoke bar next door. Indeed. Well, today was easily my favourite day in NZ so far. I went on a sailing excursion: spent the day barefoot on a boat and on an island, helping to sail, beachcombing, walking, lounging, eating tasty treats. Plus I met people from all over the world and made a couple of friends (with the British contingent, of which I am a semi-member I guess). Again, pics to come when I am on a less annoying computer.

I promised to talk about the Blue Mountains. Well, I went on a little tour there, which was great because my feet, as I may have mentioned before, have been suffering and it was a really, really hot day. So being taken round some highlights suited me fine. Did you know there are 93 species of eucalyptus (gum) tree in the Blue Mountains? And did you know the Blue Mountains are more ancient than the Grand Canyon? Factoids of the day, amaze a friend. Some photos should be on Flickr, click below to see. I’m not sure my pics of kangaroos are there. Coming soon, like so much else? And I went on the steepest railway in the world. I aim to amaze.

Time for dinner now and then a drink with friends. Tomorrow I’m on an early coach back to Auckland…then down to Wellington on the train on Sunday!

Greetings from very sunny Sydney

I’ve been in Sydney for five days now. I have seen so much and been through some loneliness and jet lag, as predicted, but it’s been great.

So, about that 14-hour flight. It went really fast, believe it or not! I forced myself to “sleep”, using my silk and lavender eye shade (thanks, S!) to create a fairly continuous nighttime for an unfeasible number of hours. All I know is that soon enough it was time for breakfast (ugh!), thereby signalling the final three hours of the flight. I could go on and on about flying. Yawn. So I’ll cut to the chase. With one and half hours left I was full of beans (literally and metaphorically) and very excited to see Sydney. Later, we came in over the city and I had my first view of that famous opera house. Very cool.

I had booked a night in private room in a particular hostel, which I had later decided, before departing England, looked pretty grim. I was stuck with one night there (or lose my deposit) so went in with the attitude that it wouldn’t be great but it’d do for a night. And so it was.  The location was good, though. Moments from Bondi Beach.

Now Bondi Beach is full of the young and the beautiful. Which is outrageously intimidating if you’re me and you’ve just got off the plane and you’re stuck wearing your specs (and not your glam made-for-Australia-in-the-summertime sunglasses, boo hoo!) on day one because of a boring mishap involving contact lens solution. Plus everyone here seems to be into exercise. Well, they have the weather for all kinds of pursuits here. I went for a walk and there were even people (well-toned males) using pull-up bars and the like dotted along the walkway. But I’m getting distracted. Where was I? Ah, yes. So my first stroll took me to North Bondi and some rock pools. I couldn’t fail to be impressed by the colour of the sea, the incredible heat and the sheer summeriness of everything around me.  Later I explored a shopping area, bought some organic nectarines and nearly had to take out a mortgage (didn’t someone tell me fresh fruit was expensive in Australia?).

Later on, jet lag strikes and I’m counting down the time til I’m “allowed” to go to bed. I go out for a makeshift dinner of pizza on the beach and then go up and down the beach barefoot, massaging the travel tension from my feet. Lovely. Then to bed in the scroungy, unfriendly hostel. Moving day tomorrow!

So Saturday I’m up nice and early and looking for trouble. I head to a cafe for breakfast and learn the term “flat white” (it’s how I like my coffee). Later I move my luggage to the new hostel (YHA Bondi Beachouse, which is lovely) and embark on the coastal walk between Bondi and Coogee. The walk is very beautiful but because I am me, the first thing I am going to tell you about is that I saw a sign that said “If you dog does a POO please put in the litter bin”. I like this because you wouldn’t see this in the official signage of either America or Britain. But back to the scenery. Have a look:

I do this walk both there…and back. Which is great but I am knackered by the end of it. But the walking and exerting is not over for the day. For I discovered, back before I even left Arizona, that it was Sydney Festival First Night on the 9th. Lots of free entertainment, a big party throughout the centre of the city basically. As I have decided to go, I feel I must go. So I go. And it is exhausting meeting the city after dark, as it’s hugely crowded and I’ve walked so much in the day. But I get myself into these things, don’t I. I was disappointed to not gain entry to the venue where Al Green was performing – the Domain reached crowd capacity before I arrived. So I watched some fantastic circus performances instead, people watched, enjoyed the festival atmosphere. But I had to get back to the hostel, and this turned into a marathon search for the bus stop (my feet ache just thinking about it) and then being severely scolded for not having my money ready (well I’d only just then located your bus stop, you crabby Aussie bus guy, give a girl a break). When I entered my room I couldn’t see unless I put on the light and so then got scolded by a slumbering roommate for doing this (“You’re in a hostel.” Yes, dear, but so are you, and seeing in the dark isn’t my superpower. My superpower is telling longwinded stories…and using lots of parentheses.) You have to laugh.

So having met Sydney on a festive Saturday night, I decided to go back for more on Sunday. By the time I’d dragged myself/walked/trained it in to the city, it was early afternoon and time for another flat white, this time just outside the botanic gardens. I then walked through part of the gardens and emerged with my first non-aerial views of the opera house and Harbour Bridge. Hurrah! Hackneyed shots but sometimes you just have to be a tourist. It’s fun.

I walked to Circular Quay and bought a ticket for the ferry to Darling Harbour. Then I walked to The Rocks where they have a fantastic market. I ended up buying myself a pretty sparkly thing for my hair. Costume jewellery is a bit of a weakness for me, but what a nice souvenir. Then back to the quay to take the ferry – what a perfect way to see the sights of Sydney. Insert more typical shots from typical visitor doing typical things. (It’s great!) Darling Harbour is full of colour and people. Children running through water features, making me wish I were several years younger, or at least wearing a swimsuit, so I could join in. Made it to Chinatown, had a quick look at the Paddy’s markets. Then collapsed in the shade somewhere and tried to get my blisters to disappear by denying their existence. This didn’t work but I waddled back to Martin Place station and took the train and the bendy bus in a well choreographed number I like to call “good timing”. Didn’t get told off by anybody.

The next day, after enjoying some time sitting near the beach reading a book, I went back into the city to visit the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I had a nice time but my feet were hurting quite a bit. I noticed I’d gotten well enough acquainted with this part of Sydney to not even need my map at all times. Back in Bondi I had a lovely, lovely dinner with a “connection” from home (thank you, Z).

Then today I went to the Blue Mountains. I am running out internet time so that will come in the next installment. I’ve written quite a lot already and wittered on about some odd things. I have just received my five minute warning from the computer – will update again soon!!!

New year, new stuff

So here we are in 2010. On New Year’s Eve Mom and I ventured downtown to ‘First Night Tucson’, taking in music performances at various venues, some improv comedy, even an Ansel Adams exhibition at the museum of art. (Very cultured of us!) That New Year’s blue moon was beautiful. Here it is as it hung over downtown Tucson that night.

One of my early achievements of the year is this genuine crocheted ipod cover, which I fashioned with my very own clumsy hands. The photo makes it look like a giant (it’s not, I didn’t go that wrong.). It’s based on the one here, but with a big old button instead of a bow. Quirky, no?

I am both excited and jittery about my upcoming travels. I have fears, but they are just fears and, really, what a nice alternative to work and winter I face. Besides, I have done far scarier things. Four springs ago I moved to a city where I knew no one. My first days in Bristol were probably some of the hardest of my life. I have nothing to fear from travelling solo. Not jet lag, not loneliness, not the things that will go ‘wrong’. It isn’t that those things won’t be part of my experience – they will. It’s just that it’s worth it for all the other things I’ll experience.

I’ve been reading Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach. She writes about the time she took a year off from her job in America and headed to Europe. She includes the ups and downs of her travels and speaks of the adventure inherent in taking off for parts unknown. I like this quote from the introduction: ‘you are a woman in search of an adventure, said the voice inside. Take the risk. Say “Yes” to life instead of “No.”

So, tomorrow: I fly to southern California, where I will stay with my dad and stepmom. The following evening they will deliver me to LAX where I will board that 14 and a half hour flight to Sydney. Me, a backpack (which I carry with authority, I tell you, you should have seen me parading around the back garden the other day…), and a daypack stuffed with novels, food, a passport and other essentials.

I’ll take my trepidation with me too. But hopefully, like Alice Steinbach, I’ll be ‘guided less by expectations than by curiosity’.